Is Honesty the Best Policy?

A recent conversation from the Bay Area Regional Transit (BART) Twitter feed has drawn national attention for its honesty and transparency.  Local service disruptions had caused many people to take to social media to express their frustration with the BART service. Surprisingly, BART answered back.

In an hours long back-and-forth conversation, a BART employee responded to a barrage of customer complaints with candid statements regarding capabilities, infrastructure, and the reality of BART’s operating situation.  Many CEOs would cringe at the thought of a single statement leaked to the public revealing internal weakness, yet this conversation was very open regarding BART’s current challenges.  Here is one interaction from the Twitter stream on March 16th:


The evening continued with many more upset tweets from patrons and calm, candid responses from BART.  It was an event of amazing honesty that has garnered much respect for BART and increased public awareness of both their challenges and efforts.

So, is honesty the best policy?

The conversation between BART and its patrons brings up an important point to consider when addressing public transparency, specifically, the difference between an explanation and an excuse.  To many people, this difference does not exist.  Any attempt to provide information regarding the reasons for service difficulties will be viewed as excuses by some individuals.  What you must remember with transparency is that you can only control the presentation; you cannot control the response.

Customers will respond to your attempts to be transparent based on their individual personalities and perceptions.  Once you have made the choice to become transparent, many people will view these efforts as attempts to make excuses, gain sympathy or support, or avoid providing the services they expect or demand.  For these customers, the only cure is consistency.  Transparency for a single moment will be viewed with suspicion. An established culture of transparency built over time is the only tactic that will change their perception.

The modern corporate climate puts a great emphasis on transparency.  Customers frequently demand it.  Governments attempt to legislate it.  Businesses appear to be on board, but do not always follow through.  The issue is complicated, to be sure.  At what point does transparency create a disadvantage by revealing actionable information to competitors?  Do we potentially provide ammunition to dissatisfied customers or even encourage legal action against?

The key to honest communication with customers is a willingness to recognize and discuss the challenges faced by your organization that have a direct impact on the customer experience.  The approach in these interactions should be to provide information.  The  goal is to increase customer loyalty and understanding.  Sometimes we experience operational issues with out service capabilities that have a direct influence on customers. The worst choice we can make in these scenarios is to pretend that problems do not exist. This is the fastest way to lose customer respect.  An honest statement of our abilities garners greater customer appreciation than a fabrication followed by a failure to execute. Here is an excellent example of providing information and correcting misinformation from the BART twitter feed:


How does your organization view public transparency?  Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!



About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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